Many small businesses are scrambling to fill open roles. Hiring is a challenge on everyone’s mind.

While higher pay and incentives may seem like what is needed to attract “A players,” our research with A players on our clients’ teams reveals what they’re seeking. It’s culture, not necessarily high pay and incentives, that attracts and keeps A players on your team.

When it comes to attracting A players, start with the end in mind. Develop your “ideal team member” avatar. Who are the A players you want to attract? What values do you want them to hold? What is important to them? What do they consider to be a great place to work? Talk with your current A players. Ask what they appreciate about working for you. What is it about your culture that stands out as being unique in their experience?

I have the privilege of talking to and surveying the A players on our clients’ teams. Here is a sampling of the responses we receive when we ask them to describe a great place to work:

  • “... you can grow, a place where you can constantly learn, and a place that treats employees fairly.”
  • “… you walk into your job and receive a happy welcome. You experience kindness and care from everyone.”
  • “It’s fun. You want to come to work. Everyone gets along well. You enjoy what you do.”
  • “... everyone works together, focused on achieving the company goals.”
  • “... everyone understands what’s expected, and is given the support to do their jobs.”
  • “... a positive environment with success-driven employees and kind, flexible customers.”
  • “... where you are truly respected and valued for your experience, abilities, ideas, opinions, and ethics.”
  • “... being supported at work and outside of work. Respect for my time and commitments to work and family.”

Consider these tips for making your business attractive to A players:

► Offer fair pay. Fair pay, not excessive bonuses, are important to A players. Evaluate the pay you are offering. I recommend you offer a starting wage or salary in the 65th percentile for the role within your geographic location. If it’s a virtual role, consider national salary data as you determine the starting wage or salary. Starting in the 65th percentile allows the opportunity for advancement as goals are met.

► Create a positive work environment. Seek out opportunities to acknowledge wins and successes on a regular basis, both individually and as a team.

► Protect your team members from toxic employees and customers. Do not tolerate disrespect or bad behavior. Your team members need to know you have their back at all times.

► Create opportunities for fun on a regular basis. If this is not your strength, identify team members who enjoy creating office fun. It’s easy to work hard when the work is fun and enjoyable.

► Define a clear result for each role and communicate this regularly to team members. Here are some questions to help you identify this: If your team member can only get one thing done in a given day or a given week, what is the most important result you want him or her to achieve? How does this result affect profitability? How does this result serve your top customers?

► Implement short weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings for each team member. A regular one-on-one meeting is the best tool for improving communication on your team. During the meeting, ask your team member what support is needed.

► Seek input from your team members. Let them know their ideas and opinions are valued.

Rather than focusing on incentivizing employees to join your team, focus on your culture. This is the key to attracting and retaining A players.


This article originally appeared in Arkansas Business and was the first in a series of monthly commentaries by Sabrina Starling, the Arkansas-based the author of the “How to Hire the Best” series, founder of Tap the Potential LLC and host of the “Profit by Design” podcast. Learn more at


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